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  • Published on: 21st September 2019
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Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill (November 30, 1874 to January 24, 1965) was an inspirational statesman. He served two terms as a conservative prime minister of Great Britain, from 1940-1945 and 1951-1955. Churchill was of rich, aristocratic ancestry, he served in the British Army and worked as a writer. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 for many of his published works. After earning election to Parliament as a conservative Member of Parliament in 1900, he had represented five constituencies and served under thirteen Prime Ministers. Due to the dissatisfaction towards his own party, he crossed the floor of the House of Commons to sit as a Liberal, “I move that this meeting affirms its unshaken belief in the principles of Free Trade… and… is now more than ever necessary for the well-being of the UK”. Many suggested reasons for Churchill’s change of sides was the prospect of a ministerial position and income, his aspiration to eliminate poverty and concerns over the working class. In 1914, Churchill created the Gallipoli campaign, a military attack during World War I that ended in disaster. This high profile losses put Churchill in the spotlight, he was criticised heavily by the public. He lost his seat in the Parliament and headed to the Western Front as an infantry officer. Towards the end of World War I, Churchill returned as a conservative. Following Neville Chamberlain’s resignation in 1940, Churchill was chosen to succeed him as Prime Minister of an all-party coalition government, meaning no party on its own can achieve a majority in the Parliament. Although Churchill’s appointment as prime minister was not initially welcomed by many of his political colleagues, his victory in World War II left everyone in the country in astonishment. Despite Churchill’s immense popularity at the time, labour leader Clement Attlee’s victory in 1945 saw Churchill out of the office. In 1951, at age 76, Churchill avenged that devastating defeat and was back in Downing Street. However, Churchill was “gloriously unfit for office”. All his businesses were conducted at his bedside. Resignation forced upon him due to poor health. Churchill suffered a severe stroke that left him gravely ill. He died on January 24, 1965, at the old age of 90. By decree of the Queen, a state funeral was held and was broadcasted worldwide in honour of his service.

In the early 20th century, like most countries, the poor in Britain could not look after themselves, they worked in workhouses under harsh working conditions. Churchill once said “If we see a drowning man we do not drag him to the shore. Instead, we provide him help to allow him to swim ashore” , he felt the state of Britain’s poor was a national disgrace. He believed the parliament, the law, he himself should help the working class, so that they can help themselves. As one of the founders of the welfare state, along with Herbert Asquith and David Lloyd George, he was the principal driving force behind the Liberals’ welfare reform. Churchill focused on four groups in the society: the old, the young, the sick and the unemployed. He pioneered measures to reduce poverty and unemployment. In 1909, as the president of Board of Trade, Churchill stood in front of the Parliament and said :

“It is a serious natural evil that any class of His Majesty’s subjects should receive less than a living wage in return for their utmost exertions… where you have what we call sweated trades, you have no organisation, no parity of bargaining, the good employer is undercut by the bad, and the bad employer is undercut by the worst; the worker, whose whole livelihood depends upon the industry, is undersold by the worker who only takes the trade up as a second string, his feebleness and ignorance generally renders the worker as easy prey to the tyranny; of the masters and middle men, only a step higher up the ladder than the worker, and held in the same relentless grip of forces- where those conditions prevails you have not a condition of progress, but a condition of progressive degeneration”.

He proposed the Trade Boards Act 1909, a piece of social legislation where its main provision was to set minimum wages in “sweated”, staple industries, which initially only covered four industries (ready and bespoke tailoring, paper box making, lace finishing and chain making). These industries had history of low wages due to the surplus of available workers and the presence of women workers. This piece of legislation was set out to ensure workers in low paid industries secured a fair deal, it prevented employers in industries where the surplus of workers was offered employment in the basis of who would accept the lowest wages. With reference to the journal “The Trade Boards Act of 1090 and the Alleviation of Household Poverty” , the Act of Parliament was effective in raising living standards and reducing poverty. It was found that as many as a third of adult manual workers at that time received wage rates that were too low to enable them to maintain a family consisting a wife and three school-aged children. The increase in women’s wage rates helped even income distributions to poor households, women can support their husbands and children; widows can support themselves and their elderly parents. Even a relatively small increase in women’s earnings had a significant effect in reducing poverty rates and alleviating the intensity of poverty for many households in the sample studied. According to Rowntree , there’s a strong negative correlation between health and poverty among working class school children. The Act not only successfully helped to pull working class people above the poverty line, making their life much easier, it also helped reduced severe health risks among working class school children. Despite being criticised by some contemporaries for being too cautious, only covering a small number of industries dominated by female workers and ignoring the inadequacy of wages for low skilled adult male workers, the implementation of the Trade Boards Act raised the incomes of a large share of women and enabled them to contribute more to family earnings. By this measure, the Trade Boards Act should be judged a success. Churchill could implement policies that only benefit the upper and middle class, but he didn’t, he flourishingly improved the lives of working class people by reducing the household poverty rate and the intensity of poverty, thus, giving the working class chances to move to middle class, so more opportunities will be opened up to them.  

Further down Churchill’s political career, during his first term as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, he formed an all-party coalition government and appointed Richard Austen Butler, a prominent Conservative politician, as the President of the Board of Education. The Education Act 1944, commonly known as the Butler’s Act, proposed by Butler under Churchill’s leadership was one of the most socially progressive pieces of legislation in the United Kingdom, it was hailed as the ‘greatest measure of education reform passed in the history of this country’. Based on the ideas drafted by senior civil servants that had been circulating for years, the reform was successful in responding wartime demands and reshaping the post war society. The Act sharply distinguished between primary and secondary education at age 11 and ended the traditional all age (5-14) elementary sector, enforcing the division between primary (5-11) and secondary (11-15) education. The tripartite system: grammar schools, secondary technical schools and secondary modern schools was established. Grammar schools were highly academically oriented, they were suited for the most intellectually able 25 per cent of the school population. They offered education to pupil beyond 15 years old and provided them pathways to higher education. Secondary Technical Schools were not deemed to satisfy the intellectual needs of an arbitrarily assumed group of children but to prepare young boys and girls to take up certain crafts, for instance, engineering and agriculture. The curriculum was well shaped for dealing with real world employment and had a solid practical edge, it provided real chances of social mobility, allowing movements between different layers in an open system of social stratification and gave opportunities to working class children to move to a different social class position to that of their parents, to better their lives in the future. Secondary Modern Schools were less disposed than grammar schools to promote school cultures, it mainly trained pupils in practical skills, equipping them for less skilled jobs and home management. To enter these schools, children have to take the 11 plus examination at age 11, which assess which pupils should attend which schools, to allocate pupils to schools best suited to their abilities and aptitudes. According to R.H. Tawney, a leading educational reformer after the war, found in 1909 that out of 250 boys leaving elementary school in Glasgow, 53.6 per cent became milk boys or lorry boys, 24.6 per cent became unskilled labourers, while the remaining became apprentices or learners. With an extended leaving age, it guaranteed the education level of the population to better equipped them in the society and prevent most juveniles and youths leaving school after elementary schools to work for low wages in unrewarding and insecure jobs, in addition, it help improved the problem of illiteracy in the United Kingdom. The Act guaranteed free education for every children by abolishing fees on parents for state secondary schools, so it will not be a limitation for the working class to receive education, it gave working class children the best possible opportunity to achieve their potential. Direct grant schools were set up, where a number of independent schools received a direct grant from Ministry of Education in exchange for accepting a number of pupils on ‘free places’. It opened secondary schools to girls and working class, it provided chances for children of all backgrounds. This policy clearly shows that Churchill better the lives of working class people. The Education Act 1944 set board aims for the school curriculum and laid a pivotal foundation for the current education system in the United Kingdom, which is arguably one of the best education system in the world. By reforming the system, Churchill set the working class people free from the vicious cycle, he made it possible for the working class to educated themselves into middle class.

To conclude, Sir Winston Churchill had an overall positive impact through his role as a Member of Parliament and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He was born into an aristocratic family, helping the working class didn’t necessarily affect him, however, in the course of a lifetime in party politics, Churchill often touched on social controversies. He believed in bettering the lives of his fellow countrymen, especially the four groups: the old, the young, the sick and the unemployed. The Trade Board Act and the Education Act proposed and implemented by Churchill had the most significant impact on the working class in the United Kingdom. The working class seized the opportunity to better educate themselves, to widen their future job scopes and free themselves from the poverty cycle. The enhanced poverty situation raised the living standards of working class people, which satisfied his initial aim of reforming Britain. His achievements by giving people from different backgrounds equal opportunities and rights made the country a better place for working class.

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